As children, most of us loved decorating Easter eggs, cookies, gingerbread men, cakes, and other treats with food coloring. Watching a few drops of food dye turn frosting and icing red, blue or purple was like magic. Artificial food colors, however, are not once-a-year decorating tools. Over 15 million pounds of food dye are used in the U.S. each year, and that’s five times more than was used in the 1950s. Chemical food dyes are in thousands of foods such as fruity cereals, candies, chips, soda, packaged sauces and even in vitamins.
Just read the labels and you’ll see names like Red 40, Yellow 5 and Blue 1. What are they? NPR says, “Artificial food dyes are made from petroleum and approved for use by the FDA to enhance the color of processed foods.” Petroleum? We’re eating petroleum? Yuck! Plus, there are a lot of studies that show artificial coloring may be linked to ailments such as birth defects, allergies, hyperactivity, behavior problems and even cancer but since the evidence is not conclusive, these food colors are approved to be in our foods.
Colorful foods are fun and happy-looking, but the truth is that using artificial food coloring is not a healthy choice. Why risk it when there are natural ways to add colors to foods that also add nutrition to the recipe? It’s easy to make your own natural food colorings in your own kitchen with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. Here’s how to eat the rainbow naturally.
Food Coloring Tips
Before we get to the actual foods we can use for coloring, here are a few tips to remember. Since we are using actual foods, they will add flavor as well as color when used in large amounts so you will want to take that into consideration for your recipes. When foods are cooked in water, the color may end up paler than expected. If you need deep, vibrant colors, it’s better to use powders than liquids. Powders are also good choices when you don’t want to add excess liquids to recipes, especially in baking.
To make veggie and fruit powders, dehydrate thin slices of food or put them on a baking sheet in a 150-degree oven for several hours until they are completely dry. Then take your dried chips and grind them in a blender or coffee grinder until they are a fine powder. See How to Make Healthy Dehydrated Fruit and 11 Cooking Tips for Dehydrated Vegetables.
1. Red and Pink
For red and pink colors, any red fruit or veggie will work. Beets, raspberries, cranberries and pomegranates are all good choices. With beets, you can buy canned beets and use the juice or juice your own raw beets. You can also boil fresh beets and then strain them for the juice. Beet powder is also great for baking and deeper red color. See a step-by-step method for using beets in How to Make All-Natural Vegan Food Coloring. Beets add the gorgeous color to these Red Velvet Bars, Mini Red Velvet Cake with Fluffy Coconut Cream Frosting, Fudgy Beetroot Chocolate Cake with Pink Frosting and the pink layer of this Marshmallow Cream Cake.
If using berries, just toss them in a food processor or blender and then strain out the pieces with a sieve or cheesecloth, leaving the pretty juice. Raspberries create the beautiful pink color in these Raspberry Rose Macarons, Peanut Butter Creme and Raspberry Chiffon Pie and these Raspberry Vanilla Cupcakes With Coconut Cream Frosting.
To get a bright orange color, use carrot juice or carrot powder. Carrots are naturally sweet so they won’t add any unwanted veggie flavor to your desserts. Just look at the beauty of this Penne in Carrot Sauce and this Carrot Cake Pudding. Another food that can add orange color to dishes is pumpkin puree. Try using it in this Pumpkin Pasta with Tomatoes and Basil, Chocolate Cupcakes with Pumpkin Coconut Frosting, Halloween Pumpkin Cookies, and Pumpkin Challah Rolls.
Annatto seeds from the achiote tree are often used to add a yellow-orange-red color to Spanish dishes such as rice. You just cook the seeds in oil and then strain them out. The resulting oil is beautiful and delicious. Use it to cook any dish and you’ll be hooked.
No, bananas won’t turn anything yellow – but spices will! Just as we add turmeric to our tofu scrambles and saffron to rice to make them yellow, these spices can add yellow color to other recipes. You can add the spices dry, little by little, or mix them with water. Try this Jeweled Yellow Rice With Pignoli Nuts and Golden Raisins, Thai Yellow Curry with Seitan and Potatoes, and Saffron Risotto with Roasted Vegetables.
Adding green color to foods is not only easy but it will add tons of nutrition to your dishes. Of all the veggies, spinach will add color and vitamins but not flavor so no one will even know it’s in there. You can use spinach juice or powder as well as wheatgrass juice and parsley juice or powder. Look how bright and beautiful the colors are in this Green Monster Margarita Smoothie.
In addition to spinach, there are a host of superfoods that not only bump up the nutrition but add a beautiful green color to recipes. Spirulina, liquid chlorophyll, and matcha powder are a trifecta of health and emerald color. Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is high in protein, B-vitamins, and antioxidants as well as other nutrients. Find out how to How to Sneak Spirulina into Tasty Recipes for a Nutrient Boost. Then make this Vegan Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Raw Chocolate Mint Grasshopper Pie and the green layer of this Marshmallow Cream Cake.
Matcha is a Japanese tea that is considered a superfood packed with nutrients. See Meet Your Matcha: 10 Recipes to Make This Summer to learn more about how to use it. You’ll never see anything as beautiful as this Matcha Green Tea and Mint Cheesecake. Matcha gives us green ice cream like this Mint Matcha Chip Ice Cream, Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes, and this Raw Matcha Coconut Cream Cake. This Pumpkin Pie Green Smoothie Bowl has spinach, spirulina, matcha and a super greens powder for maximum nutrition and green-ness.
I’ve read that blues and purples are the hardest colors to make, even synthetically in a lab. To make blue color, we can use blueberries and blueberry juice. To make simple, easy blue recipes, you’ll want to start with this Boozy Blueberry Bourbon Smoothie, Vanilla Blueberry Tart, Breakfast Blueberry Chia, and Blueberry Ice Cream Cake. Imagine the fun of eating these Peanut Butter-Banana Waffles with Blueberry Macadamia Cream that’s actually blue! Another tip is to use red cabbage juice mixed with a bit of baking soda; it makes the purple color look bluer. Who would’ve thought?
Blueberries can also be used for purple color as can blackberries, the aforementioned red cabbage, grape juice and even purple sweet potatoes. Purple sweet potatoes are used to make these Steamed Purple Jam and Cocoa Rolls, Hearty Purple Potato Stew and this Purple Monster Vegan Oatmeal. Blackberries lend their color to this Superfood Blackberry Cheesecake and this Blackberry Ice Cream.
Adding brown coloring to foods just might be the easiest and most delicious of all the colors. Use cocoa powder, cacao powder, instant coffee granules, espresso or black tea. Recipes containing these ingredients include this Heavenly Raw Tiramisu, Gingerbread Latte Cupcakes, Chocolate Almond Espresso Cake and Vegan Mocha Fudge. I don’t think I have to work too hard to convince you to make this Creamy Raw Chocolate Espresso Pie, do I?
If you need food to look black, forget the squid ink. You can use black cocoa powder, but it’s probably easier to buy charcoal powder. Activated charcoal powder has long been used as a medicinal aid for digestive issues and as a treatment for poisoning. It’s totally safe to eat and use in recipes. Bamboo charcoal is added to the pasta dough in these Dark Yaki Gyoza, which are filled with carrots and beets and in this Basic Black Bread.
Forget the artificial stuff. There’s no reason to eat anything made from petroleum and other chemicals when we can use healthy, natural foods to add color to our recipes. Whether you’re decorating cookies for Christmas, coloring Easter eggs or making a yummy yellow tofu scramble, the best food colorings are already right there in your kitchen.
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Lead image source: Four Layer Raw Rainbow Ice Cream Cake